Introduction. Competing Responsibilities:
Reckoning Personal Responsibility, Care for the Other,
and the Social Contract in Contemporary Life
susanna trnka and catherine trundle
Calls to be responsible pervade contemporary life.1 In many Western coun-
tries, the drive for responsibility is often portrayed as being at the heart of
public and political institutions. Governments around the world regularly list
one of their main priorities as responsibly managing national finances; large
multinational corporations increasingly promote their efforts to be socially
and environmentally responsible and responsive; and in many workplaces,
employees are increasingly being responsibilized through new modes of audit
and assessment. Every day we hear myriad different appeals to responsibil-
ity, demanding that people must be held accountable for personal failings,
social ills, and accomplishments. In the global arena, responsibility and its
absence are often cast as the crux of conflict and its resolution. Responsibility
is an ideal, it seems, we can never have too much of; calls for responsibility
frequently index a lack, an aspiration, an achievement, or an obligation that
is hard to refute.
The increasing pervasiveness of responsibility in contemporary discourse,
and often the lack of reflexivity about its inherent social worth, are precisely
what necessitates a closer examination of this concept. The task of unpack-
Previous Page Next Page